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dexterity had been required. He went on tip-toe across the gravel to the grass, and once on that he strode in the direction whence he had come. By the thick trunk of one of a group of aged trees be stopped to get a light, just as the court-clock struck six in loud long clangs. The transaction had been carried out, through her impatience possibly, four or five minutes before the time appointed.
The note contained, in a shaken hand, in which, however, the wellknown characters were distinguishable, these words in pencil :
“At half-past seven o'clock. Just outside the north lodge; don't fail."
This was the time she had suggested to Sol as that which would probably best suit her escape, if she could escape at all. She had changed the place froin the west to the north lodge--nothing else. The latter was certainly more secluded, though a trifle more remote from the course of the proposed journey; there was just time enough and none to spare for fetching the brougham from Lower Lychworth to the lodge, the village being two miles off. The few minutes gained by her readiness at the balcony were useful now. He started at once for the village, diverging somewhat to observe the spot appointed for the meeting. It was excellently chosen ; the gate appeared to be little used, the lane outside it was covered with trees, and all around was silent as the grave. After this hasty survey by the wan starlight, he hastened on to Lower Lychworth.
An hour and a quarter later a little brougham without lamps was creeping along by the park wall towards this spot. The leaves were so thick upon the unfrequented road that the wheels could not be heard, and the horse's pacing made scarcely more noise than a rabbit would have done in limping along. The vehicle progressed slowly, for they were in good time. About ten yards from the park entrance it stopped, and Christopher stepped out.
“We may have to wait here ten minutes," he said to the driver. “And then shall we able to reach Anglebury in time for the up-mail train to Southampton ?"
“Half-past seven, half-past eight, half-past nine-two hours. Oh yes, sir, easily. A young lady in the case perhaps, sir ?"
“Well, I hope she'll be done honestly by, even if she is of humble station. 'Tis best, and cheapest too, in the long run.” The coachman was apparently imagining the dove about to fit away to be one of the pretty maid-servants that abounded in Lychworth Court; such escapades as these were not infrequent among them, a fair face having been deemed a sufficient recommendation, without too close an inquiry into character, since the death of the first viscountess.
“Now then, silence; and listen for a footstep at the gate."
Such calmness as there was in the musician's voice had been produced by considerable effort. For his heart bad begun to beat fast and loud as
he strained his attentive ear to catch the footfall of a woman who could never be his.
The obscurity was as great as a starry sky would permit it to be. Beneath the trees where the carriage stood the darkness was total.
LYCHWORTH AND ITS PRECINCTS.—MELCHESTER.
To be wise after the event is often to act foolishly with regard to it; and to preserve the illusion which has led to the event would frequently be a course that omniscience itself could not find fault with. Reaction with Ethelberta was complete, and the more violent in that it threatened to be useless. Sol's bitter chiding had been the first thing to discompose her fortitude. It reduced her to a consciousness that she had allowed herself to be coerced in her instincts without triumphing in her duty. She might have pleased her family better by pleasing her tastes, and have entirely avoided the grim irony of the situation disclosed later in the day.
After the second interview with Sol she was to some extent composed in mind by being able to nurse a definite intention. As momentum causes the narrowest wheel to stand upright, the poorest scheme, fairly launched, will give power to maintain a position stoically.
In the temporary absence of Lord Mountclere, about six o'clock, she slipped out upon the balcony and handed down a note. The hour and a half wanting to half past seven she passed with great effort. The greater part of the time was occupied by dinner, during which she attempted to devise some scheme for leaving him without suspicion just before the appointed moment. Happily, and as if by a Providence, there was no necessity for any such thing. A little while before the half-hour, when she moved to rise from dinner, he also arose, begging her to excuse him for a few minutes, that he might go and write an important note to his lawyer, until that moment forgotten, though the postman was nearly due. She heard him retire along the corridor and shut himself into his study, his promised time of return being a quarter of an hour thence.
Five minutes after that memorable parting Ethelberta came from the little door by the bush of yew, well and thickly wrapped up from head to heels. She skimmed across the park and under the boughs like a shade, mounting then the stone steps for pedestrians which were fixed beside the park gates here, as at all the lodges. Outside and below her she saw an oblong shape—it was a brougham, and it had been drawn forward close to the bottom of the steps that she might not have an inch further to go on foot than to this barrier. The whole precinct was overhung with trees ; half their foliage being over head, the other half under foot, for the gardeners had not yet begun to rake and collect the leaves ; thus it was that her dress rustled as she descended the steps.
The carriage door was held open by the driver, and she entered instantly. He shut her in, and mounted to his seat. As they drove away she became conscious of another
inside. “Oh! Sol-it is done !” she whispered, believing the man to be her brother. Her companion made no reply.
Ethelberta, familiar with Sol's moods of troubled silence, did not press for an answer. It was, indeed, certain that Sol's assistance would have been given under a sullen protest ; even if unwilling to disappoint her, he might well have been silent and angry at her course. They sat in silence, and in total darkness. The road ascended an incline, the horse's feet being still deadened by the carpet of leaves. Then the large trees on either hand became interspersed by a low brushwood of varied sorts, from which a large bird occasionally flow, in its affright at their presence beating its wings recklessly against the hard stems with force enough to cripple the delicate quills. It showed how deserted was the spot after nightfall.
“Sol ?” said Ethelberta again. Why not talk to me?"
She now noticed that her fellow-traveller kept his head and his whole person as snugly back in the corner, out of her way, as it was possible to do. She was not exactly frightened, but she could not understand the reason. The carriage gave a quick turn, and stopped.
“ Where are we now ?” she said. “Shall we get to Anglebury by nine? What is the time, Sol ?"
“I will see," replied her companion. They were the first words he had uttered.
The voice was so different from her brother's that she was terrified; her limbs quivered. In another instant the speaker had struck a way vesta, and holding it erect in his fingers he looked her in the face.
“Hee-hee-hee!” The laugher was her husband the viscount !
He laughed again, and his eyes gleamed like a couple of tarnished brass buttons in the light of the wax match.
Ethelberta might have fallen dead with the shock, so terrible and hideous was it. Yet she did not. She neither shrieked nor fainted ; but no poor January fieldfare was ever colder, no ice-house ever more dank with perspiration, than she was then.
“A very pleasant joke, my dear-hee-hee! And no more than was to be expected on this merry happy day of our lives. Nobody enjoys a good jest more than I do: I always enjoyed a jest-hee-hee! Now we are in the dark again ; and we will alight and walk. The path is too narrow for the carriage, but it will not be far for you. Take your husband's arm.”
While he had been speaking a defiant pride had sprung up in her, instigating her to conceal every weakness. He had opened the carriage door and stepped out. She followed, taking the offered arm.
“ Take the horse and carriage to the stables," said the viscount to the coachman, who was his own servant, the vehicle and horse being also his.
Tho coachman turned the horse's head and vanished down the woodland track by which they had ascended.
The viscount moved on, uttering private chuckles as numerous as a woodpecker's taps, and Ethelberta with him. She walked as by a miracle, but she would walk. She would have died rather than not bave walked then.
She perceived now that they were somewhere in Lychworth wood. As they went, she noticed a faint gleam upon the ground on the other side of the viscount, which showed her that they were walking beside a wet ditch. She remembered having seen it in the morning: it was a shallow ditch of mud. She might push him in, and run, and so escape before he could extricate himself. It was her last chance. She waited a moment for the opportunity.
“We are one to one, and I am the stronger ! ” she at last exclaimed triumphantly, and lifted her hand for a thrust.
“On the contrary, darling; we are one to half a dozen, and you considerably the weaker," he tenderly replied, stepping back adroitly, and blowing a whistle. At once the bushes seemed to be animated in four or five places.
“ John ?” he said in the direction of one of them.
“Yes, my lord,” replied a voice from the bush, aud a keeper came forward.
« William ?”
“Quite right. Remain where you are for the present. Is Tomkins there?"
Yes, my lord,” said a man from another part of the thicket.
“You go and keep watch by the further lodge : there are poachers about. Where is Strongway ?" “ Just below, my
lord.” “Tell him and his brother to go to the west gate, and walk up and down. Let them search round it, and among the trees inside. Anybody there who cannot give a good account of himself to be brought before me to-morrow morning. I am living at the cottage at present. That's all I have to say to you.” And turning round to Ethelberta : “ Now, dearest, we will walk a little further, if you are able. I have provided that your friends shall be taken care of.” He tried to pull her hand towards him, gently, like a cat opening a door.
They walked a little onward, and Lord Mountclere spoke again, with imperturbable good humour :
“I will tell you a story, to pass the time away. I have learnt the art from you—your mantle has fallen upon me, and all your inspiration with it. Listen, dearest. I saw a young man come to the house to-day. Afterwards I saw him cross a passage in your company. You entered the ball-room with him. That room is a treacherous place. It is panelled with wood, and between the panels and the walls are passages for the servants, opening from the room by doors hidden in the woodwork. Lady Mountclere knew of one of these, and made use of it to let out her conspirator; Lord Mountelere knew of another, and made use of it to let in himself. His sight is not good, but his ears are unimpaired. A meeting was arranged to take place at the west gate at half-past seven, unless a note handed from the balcony mentioned another time and place. He heard it all-hee-hee !
“When Lady Mountclere's confederate came for the note, I was in waiting above, and handed one down, a few minutes before the hour struck, confirming the time, but changing the place. When Lady Mountclere handed down her note, just as the clock was striking, her confederate had gone, and I was standing beneath the balcony to receive it. She dropped it into her husband's hands-ho-ho-ho-ho!
“ Lord Mountclere ordered a brougham to be at the west lodge, as fixed by Lady Mountclere's note. Probably Lady Mountclere's friend ordered a brougham to be at the north gate, as fixed by my note, written in imitation of Lady Mountclere's hand. Lady Mountclere came to the spot she had mentioned, and like a good wife rushed into the arms of her husband-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo!”
As if by an ungovernable impulse, Ethelberta broke into laughter also_laughter which had a wild unnatural sound; it was hysterical. She sank down upon the leaves, and there continued the fearful laugh just as before. Lord Mountclere became greatly frightened. The spot they had reached was a green space within a girdle of hollies, and in front of them rose an ornamental cottage. This was the building which Ethelberta had visited earlier in the day : to be short, it was the Trianon of Lychworth Court.
The viscount left her side, and hurried forward. The door of the building was opened by a woman.
“Have you prepared for us, as I directed ?”
“ Never mind that now. Lady Mountclere is ill; come and assist her indoors. Tell the other woman to bring wine and water at once."
He returned to Ethelberta. She was better, and was sitting calmly on the bank. She rose without assistance.
“You may retire,” he said to the woman who had followed him, and she turned round. When Ethelberta saw the building, she drew back quickly
“ Where is the other Lady Mountclere?” she inquired.
“That sounds well. Lord Mountclere, we may as well compromise matters.”
“I think so, too. It hecomes a lady to make a virtue of a necessity."